"Johnny" is 18, and he can't remember the last book he read. He stopped watching TV recently because it "sucked." He dropped out of school because it's "boring." His mother got him a job at a local sandwich shop, but he stopped showing up after three days because "it got to be too much." But ask Johnny about the latest sequel to the video game Call of Duty and he's on a five-minute tirade about the pros and cons of the game's so-called improvements. He should know, after all, with as many at 80 hours a week spent playing video games on his computer, his Xbox 360, his Wii, or one of his 2 Playstation 3s. (He got a second when the first started "acting up" and he was worried he wouldn't be able to finish Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.)
The American Medical Association's 2007 study found that as many as five million Johnnys (American kids 8-18) might be video game addicts. 40% of gamers are female, so there's surely some "Janes" too.
But video game addiction? C'mon, that's a made-up thing, many claim. The current DSM doesn't even recognize video game addiction as a legitimate addiction.
Let's examine what's happening with Johnny a bit more closely to see what's what.
1) Johnny craves more game time, no matter how much he's already played.
2) He suffers from chronic dry eyes.
3) His friends have stopped calling and coming by to hang out.
4) He sometimes doesn't shower or change clothes for days.
5) He gets extremely upset if someone suggests he might have a problem with video games.
6) He rarely leaves the house because he feels like he's missing out on something that might be happening in the games.
7) He spends his entire allowance on video game hardware and software.
8) He lies to his parents about how often he plays.
9) He sometimes skips doing his chores to keep gaming.
10) When he's not at the computer, he's irrtable and snappy.
What's that all add up to?
It adds up to Johnny being a video game junkie, that's what. He's hooked. Even though he admits he's tired of the games and wishes he could quit, he doesn't, and not understanding how that contradiction can exist makes him feel small, disempowered, and afraid. From there comes the inevitable shame and guilt spiral into utter despair, which he more than likely is doomed to endure alone.
Johnny's suffering from video game addiction like tens of millions of other kids around the globe. China has over 200 military-style boot camps for digitally detoxing kids. South Korea has over 1,000 trained counselors to help out people hooked on video games. What's the U.S. doing about video game addiction?
They're too busy laughing at him to do anything.
At least the general public is.
In the U.S., to admit to a problem with video game addiction is to invite ridicule, shame, and scorn. It's not sexy. It's not cool. To think that someone would choose a virtual existence over the pleasures of real life? It's ridiculous, most would think. And they're right. It's exactly as ridiculous as being hooked on crack, alcohol, smoking, sex, or gambling.
Johnny says, "It's depressing to know that I'm 18, 300 lbs., single, unemployed, friendless, and eternally tired." But he keeps playing because he doesn't know what else to do.
We owe Johnny better than this. It starts with raising public awareness by taking crises seriously, no matter the cause. If we keep ignoring Johnny's quiet cries for help, he might become the next Shawn Woolley, who committed suicide in 2001 after being unable to overcome his addiction to Everquest. One more Shawn Woolley type of tragedy is more than we can afford.